Blogging A-Z: W is for writing. As much as I enjoy writing, there’s a giant ache in my heart when I hear that word. Why? Because of the anguish many of my students feel when they write at school. To what lengths do some of these kids go to avoid writing tasks which are beyond their reach? They get out of reach themselves, going under desks or tables, leaving the class, taking an extended vacation in the bathroom, and going to the nurse’s office after throwing up. Or they lash out, disrupting the entire class. Seriously. I’ve seen all of that and more.
We must change the school landscape for these kids who live in fear of writing. I spent much of last summer desensitizing a kid who could no longer THINK about writing without overwhelming panic. He had to cross an emotional abyss in order to attempt writing again. His was not an isolated problem. For twice exceptional kids, especially, this can be the daily terrain.
We know from brain research (and common sense) that some kinds of struggles are “good.” Persevering through certain learning challenges can improve our ability to problem solve. Succeeding when struggles are at the right level of difficulty is vital. But writing phobias are not an outcome of “good” struggles. This writing distress and cycle of failure begins by tasking kids with assignments for which they are not capable, plunging them into a mire from which there seems no escape. If I were expected to write a sentence in French, even if the teacher said kindly, “All you have to do is write TWO words,” I would be at a loss. I don’t know the letters, sounds, words, or grammar. I would be mortified if this happened in front of my peers. I would feel like Alice in Wonderland if my teacher assured me that I was fully capable of writing a two-word story in French. Does she even know me? Where would I begin? After a few assignments like this, my anxiety would rocket when it was time for writing. I’d start worrying about it before I got to class. I’d feel stupid and ashamed when the teacher’s help simply didn’t help. I would wonder what was wrong with me. When I looked around at my colleagues, busily at work on writing tasks, I’d feel incompetent. Maybe I’d try to copy a colleagues’s work. Perhaps my stomach would start hurting, so I’d end up in the nurse’s office.
Changing writing phobias to writing success starts with understanding our students’ learning differences. The website Understood has realistic videos of kids with writing struggles. Listen to kids talk about their struggles. Look at this supposedly simple task from their point of view. Effective instructional change is possible. The writing topography can be one of success.
How many of you had writing struggles as a student? Would you share your experiences (anonymously, if you prefer)?